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Friends ready to make splash at Games

Friends Jessica Gillis (left) and Elizabeth Abler are swimmers with Team Nova Scotia that will participate in the 2018 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games at St. F.X.'s Alumni Aquatic Centre. Corey LeBlanc
Friends Jessica Gillis (left) and Elizabeth Abler are swimmers with Team Nova Scotia that will participate in the 2018 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games at St. F.X.'s Alumni Aquatic Centre. Corey LeBlanc - Corey LeBlanc

Abler, Gillis to compete in swimming

Jessica Gillis and Elizabeth Abler are preparing to dive into competition at the 2018 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games.

The accomplished Eastern Highlands’ athletes are swimmers with Team Nova Scotia.

“A long, long time,” Gillis said, with a laugh, when asked when she started swimming.

While gesturing the motion involved with each stroke, she added, her favourite swims are the butterfly, freestyle and backstroke.

“It makes me happy,” Gillis, 26, said of what she enjoys the most about swimming.

Abler agreed.

“It is so much fun,” Abler, 40, said, noting she loves learning new strokes and improving in each one.


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She started swimming when she was 18, as a member of Special Olympics Ontario. The L’Arche Antigonish resident has been doing the same in Nova Scotia for seven years.

“It runs in the family,” Abler said, noting her late mother, Trudy, and aunt, Nancy, were competitive swimmers.

At the Games, she will race in the freestyle (25, 50 and 100m), backstroke (25m) and breaststroke (25m).

“We are going to race twice each day,” Abler, who will celebrate her birthday during the event (July 28), said.

That busy schedule doesn’t even include the two days of practice sessions before the event gets underway.

In the lead-up to the national competition, the duo has been practicing every Thursday, with their coaches, not to mention other sessions throughout the week. Both are hitting the water as much as they can.

When asked about their close friendship – and having the opportunity to compete together, wide smiles crossed their faces.

“It is going to be awesome,” Gillis, a member of Heatherton Group Home in Antigonish County, said.

Abler recalled, after representing Eastern Highlands in provincial competition, talking to regional coordinator Joan Conrad about how awesome it would be if she and Gillis made Team Nova Scotia for nationals.

“That’s exactly what happened,” she said, adding with a laugh “sometimes my intuition scares me a bit.”

Both women, also Port Hawkesbury Antigonish Swim Team (PHAST) members, said they are aiming for the medal podium but, more importantly, they are striving to give their best performances, while enjoying the experience of the Games.

“They are calling it the athletes’ village, just like they do in the Olympics,” Abler said of the residences, where they will stay, and the other offerings on the St. F.X. campus for everyone involved.

It is not surprising, for a pair with such a special bond, one of the things they are looking forward to the most during the Games.

“We really like making new friends,” Abler said.

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